Walk down any cereal aisle and you are likely to see a wide range of characters staring you down.  From the athletes and celebrities on cereals marketed to adults to the princesses and cartoon tigers on the kids' cereal, it seems like every character is watching you as you go.  But that's crazy, right?  Surely your cereal isn't watching you.  Oh yes it is.

Researchers at Cornell Food and Brand lab and Yale University recently got together to ask two very interesting questions about those characters on your cereal box.  

1. Do cereal characters make eye contact?

2. Does eye contact with the character on a cereal box influence choice?

In other words, are consumers more likely to buy cereal if they feel like the character on the box is looking at them?

After looking at 65 different kinds of cereals in 10 different grocery stores, here is what they found:

As you might expect, cereal that is marketed to children is placed on lower shelves than the cereal marketed to adults.  If you know anything about supermarket product placement, that makes perfect sense.  In fact, the researchers found that on average, children’s cereal boxes are placed at about 23 inches, whereas adult cereals are on the shelves at about 48 inches.  

But what's even more remarkable is that the angle of the gaze of the spokesperson on the box is also perfectly calculated to hit its target consumer.  Characters on children's cereal boxes look downward at about 9.6 degrees - so they are more likely to look kids directly in the eye.  Characters on adult cereal boxes look almost straight ahead - and again, that is calculated so that for the majority of adults, the characters will appear to be looking straight at them.

Why the eye contact?  Apparently, marketing research shows that consumers are more likely to see a character as trustworthy if it is making eye contact.  And that adds up to a purchase.  

Check it out in this video:

As the researcher in the video explains, the takeaway is that if characters making eye contact can be used to sell cereal, maybe they can also be used by companies looking to market healthier products to families.  Pretty soon, your fruits and veggies may be staring at you too!

Related posts on MNN:

Is your cereal stalking you?
No, you're not losing your mind. Your cereal box is watching your every move.